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Interview: Dom Flynn from Navigation Brewery

13 March 12 interview: Al Needham

"I tell my mates I’m going in to sample the brews in the morning, and their faces light up - but if I’ve had a proper night out, it’s not nice"

With the nights finally drawing out, Nottingham’s hostelries and taverns are finally thinking about what to do round the back. While some are contemplating a new bucket for the nub-ends or even a massively oversized umbrella with some lager branding on it, the Trent Navigation – the pub of choice for the discerning Notts County aficionado – has gone one step further; they’re building their own brewery right on the premises.

Situated in the old stable block behind the pub, new owners Great Northern Inns are installing all manner of coppery gubbins as we speak, and will be knocking out a selection of beers by March. And it’s not just the Nav who’ll be reaping the benefits; other GNI pubs like The Approach, The Southbank, The Cross Keys, The Globe and The Monkey Tree will be stocking up on the new brews as well.

In keeping with the Trent Navigation’s unique style (it was built to cater for the workers and horses who grafted on the Nottingham to Grantham canal), the brewery will be erected as a nod to Britain’s glorious industrial heritage. So while they won’t be stuffing kids up the chimney, they will be creating something you’d actually want to have a nose round when it’s done.

Dominic Flynn, Head Brewer of Navigation Brewery, talks about his brand new toy…

We’ve heard of locally-sourced produce, but this is something else. How much input have you had in the building of this?
I’ve had a big input into what’s going where, ever since one of the owners called after some advice, and I kinda fell in love with what they were doing, their process, and the investment they’re putting in there. The kit is state of the art.

You’ve learned your craft all over the country. How does Notts beer measure up?
We’re very privileged here for beer. When I was interviewed for the job, I said listen - we’ve got to use the best ingredients, because the beer in Nottingham’s already good. If there were rubbish breweries we’d only have to make a Mercedes of beer, but we’ll need to make a Rolls Royce to compete with the likes of Blue Monkey and Castle Rock.

Is this going to be a microbrewery, or an actual brewery?
I don’t get too precious over titles. I don’t know where micro becomes macro. I mean, we’re obviously not going to be competing with Carlsberg or Coors or Pedigree, but then again we’re certainly not doing it in the back of our double garage - the kit we’re putting in is industrial.

Breweries seem to be knocking out different ales almost on a monthly basis. How much planning actually goes into creating a new beer? Obviously, you can’t reinvent the wheel too much...
I agree. I think it’s too easy to chase the almost cheap sale of just knocking out a new beer every two weeks. How many pale ales can one brewery make, and genuinely make them all taste different? So we’re going to do five beers from the off, and for a long time, that’ll be it.

What’s your particular poison?
I genuinely like craft beer. I’ve always preferred the sweet porters - certainly in the winter, maybe a stout - and then in the summer something a bit more crisp and refreshing like a pale ale.

You don’t have a secret Lambrini and Budweiser fetish, then.
Well, if I’m at a mate’s barbeque and its red hot outside, I’ll drink a can of lager. I’ve just finished work now and I’ve been around real ale for the last three days – I’ve had it coming out of me ears – so I’ve just nipped into the supermarket and bought a bottle of red that I’ll enjoy with the missus tonight.

Have you ever found yourself at work, feeling like arse after a really heavy night, thinking; “What am I doing here?”
Yeah. It’s horrible. Sometimes at the weekend I tell my mates I’m going in to sample, and their faces light up; but if I’ve had a proper night out, it’s not nice. You have a breakfast of bread, to make your palette as neutral as possible, and you’re actually tasting for off-flavours – looking for what’s wrong in the beer rather than what’s right.

Breweries look a bit scary to us. What’s the most dangerous thing about them?
I always thought it would be the seam, where you can easily burn yourself, or the chemicals, but I had a chat with someone in environmental health, who said slips, trips and falls. It’s a wet environment, and the temperatures are extreme at both levels. One minute you’re dealing with ice brews that are freezing, the next cleaning out the vessels in a forty degree heat.

So what’s the benefit of having a brewery built behind a pub? Is the lack of travel a big factor?
Actually, the real benefit is the pubs having compete control of the produce. You get rapid response from the landlords and regulars, and you become part of their community. And the assured sales is a bonus.

So what else do you intend to do here?
From day one, I was mad keen on it because this is the first time I was going to be brewing in Nottingham. The two guys who own the pubs, they’re from Nottingham. So is the guy that I’m training up to be a skilled brewer. And the guy who’s driving the van. So we’re going to be looking at putting on an on-site shop that’ll sell merchandise and bottle beers, as well as brewery tours and the like. I loved working in places where the brewery was part of the community; I definitely want that here.

Be honest – is organising a piss-up in a brewery as easy as people assume?
No! It’s more difficult than you’d think. You really have to rein people in. You can end up finding students with sick all over themselves in the toilets.

You were the man who brewed our Three LeftLions beer, back in 2006 for the World Cup, weren’t you?
That’s right. And long before that, when LeftLion was just an idea in Jared and Alan’s heads, I was one of the people outside The Bomb giving out leaflets and stickers.

The Trent Navigation, 17 Meadow Lane, NG2 3HS


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